View Full Version : Trip Report: Cairns and Townsville

11-15-2008, 22:33
On our early November trip to Australia, we did some diving and snorkeling. While in the Cairns (pronounced ‘cans’) area, we did a one night live aboard to the outer reefs. After that, went to Townsville to dive the Yongala wreck.


In Cairns, we stayed at the Queens Court. It’s fairly close to the train station and outside the central business district (CBD). While there’s a restaurant at the hotel (you might eat one dinner there), there are better, more varied eats about a 10 minute walk away. Or you can visit the CBD, which is a 15 to 20 minute walk from the hotel. Bus fare to CBD is $1.80AUD each way if you don’t want to walk, and there’s a returning stop outside the hotel. Pickup to the CBD is around the corner from the hotel.

The live aboard was done through Deep Sea Divers Den. They picked us up at the hotel, took us to the dive shop, where they verified my C card and ensured everything was paid up. We were then taken to the dock to board the Sea Quest, from which we’d do 2 dives and then transfer to the larger Ocean Quest for additional dives (1 afternoon, 1 evening, and 3 the following day) and the overnight (you can do more than one night). Sea Quest had a crowded dive deck, and it felt like there were too many people on board, although not unsafe. Most people were hiring their equipment; I was one of the two or three with all my own gear (except tanks and weights, of course). On board, they verified C cards as well as reviewed log books. After 2 dives, we transferred to the Ocean Quest. Ocean Quest is a larger boat, with maybe 35 people on it. Very comfortable, in fact our room with a double bed was nicer than some hotel rooms. Being a larger boat with fewer people, the dive deck was comfortable. The staff was safety-oriented and very customer-oriented. We were fed well. They used 65 cu. ft. tanks.

The Cairns Dives

Water temp was 78º with viz at 30‘ to 40’. I dove in a 5mm suit, which was comfortable. The first reef dived was Saxony reef, which is in marginal condition. One of the sections was OK, and another was close to dead, with few fish. Then we dove Norman reef, which was in better shape than Saxony reef. The coral was existent and fish life was better. Important lesson to listen to the dive briefing, and assess conditions once in the water. On one dive, they told us which way the current was running, however, it was in fact running 180º opposite.

Other Cairns Activity

Can’t leave Cairns without mentioning the tour we took into the Daintree rainforest, with Australian Wild Escapes. They are a little more expensive than others, however, they will pick you up in Cairns at the hotel, and they limit the tour to 6 people. On the day we went, we were the only two, and had a fabulous tour. Cathy was our guide, and we’d recommend if you take this tour that you ask for her as your tour guide. She is very knowledgeable about the rainforest and the indigenous people of the region. This was one of the high points of our trip. Tour description: Sydney Tours, Day Tour Melbourne, Tasmania Tours, Blue Mountain Tours - Australian Wild Escapes (http://www.australianwildescapes.com/Tour_Detailed.asp?Code=BCD)


Took the train from Cairns to Townsville. Here, we stayed at The Beach House on the Strand, which faces the ocean. There are a number of restaurants close by, and a great gelato place too.

The dive was done through Adrenalin Dive. They picked me up at the hotel, and took us and others to the dock. There they got everyone’s rental equipment set up, and we loaded the boat. We had about 10 divers, then went to Magnetic Island to pick up another 10, which was a full boat. From there it’s a 2 to 2.5 hr ride to the Yongala, and fortunately, the water wasn’t too rough, so the ride wasn’t too bad. A number of locals warned me to take seasickness medicine for the trip (As a preventative, I did take some ginger tablets). They brought some fruit and toast around on the trip out (note, might pass on the toast, which was loaded with butter, may aggravate an upset stomach at sea). At the dive site, there was an OK dive briefing. I chose to do a guided trip with 6 others in our group for the first dive, and we may have spent more time getting people down together and up together than actually diving the site. The second dive, I buddied with an experienced diver, and we went down on our own, and while the dive started into a 1-2 knot current, about half way down the wreck the current picked up to where we weren’t making any forward progress, so we turned around and drifted back to the guide line. They had us do a 2 min safety stop at 30’ and the 3 min stop at 15’. On the surface, it was around a 3 knot current, so everyone held on to the guide line back to the boat.

Back at the shop, we talked to Paul, who said the currents were lowest when it was a full moon or new moon … we dove mid-moon.

The Townsville dives

Water temp was 78º with viz at 30‘ to 45’. The Yongala went down in 1911, in an area with a large sandy bottom. Since then, the corals have had a significant time to develop into an intense aquatic environment (the wreck was found in 1958). The growth is significant, in fact, if it weren’t for the obvious man-made angles of the boat, it would be hard to tell it was a boat. As the coral is significant, so is a large population of fish around the boat. Some of the larger varieties seen were a large graceful manta ray, sea turtles, sea snake (poisonous), and barracuda. They use 88 cu. ft. tanks.

Other observations ….

Don’t plan on using American Express or Diners Club charge cards. Of the places that accepted them, most had a sign that there was a 2% to 5% premium, with 4%-5% being the norm. One storekeeper told me that Amex charges them a higher fee and takes 3 months to get their money to them.

If you take American Express Travelers checks, plan to use them as a safe way to transport money, however, don’t plan to spend them in a store. We didn’t find any place that would accept Travelers checks as payment, and our checks were in Australian dollars. You can cash them at no charge in Westpak banks that have an AMEX foreign exchange center, or for a fee at other banks. There’s an AMEX foreign exchange center in Cairns, Townsville, a number in Sydney, as well as other cities.

If you’re going to spend several days in Sydney, consider a Travelpass, which gives you unlimited bus, train, and ferry use for $35AUD over 7 days in the ‘red’ zone, which covers South Central Sydney (much of the tourist stuff). It pays for itself quickly, even if you aren’t there for 7 days. A few bucks more for additional zones.

We had free wireless Internet at the Queens Court, however, others had a per hour charge between $5 and $7.50, with full day or multiple days service options also available.

In Queensland, XXXX beer (ask for 4X) is the local brew, tasty, and recommended.

Didn't do much photography, however, a few pics from Cairns are attached. (Canon SD870 in Canon case).

11-17-2008, 00:05
Great report! Like that trip up to Daintree, I did that sky rail.

Always wanted to do the Yongala but I get seasick walking in the rain and I hear it can be rough going out there. Nice pics of the Napolean and it looks like you had that great vis!

11-18-2008, 03:37
I might add don't even bring your Discover card to OZ they don't even know what one is.

11-21-2008, 02:56
Glad you had a good time in North Queensland. I went out yesterday myself doing the 'Trinity Bay' dredge wreck first then a reef dive (dunno which one - the depth sounder picked up a bommie we weren't expecting and over went the anchor!). Used a 3mm shorty for the wreck, then just the Speedo's for the reef. 28deg water was good, but vis down this week with the coral spawning. Its a shame no commercial operators do this wreck off Cairns - it is only 2mn from Green island on the way to the reefs...I guess they figure 38m is a little too deep for a first up dive.

11-25-2008, 10:04
good report - thanks for sharing. Oz is "on the list"